In December 2018, wildlife officials discovered chronic wasting disease in Tennessee. The neurological disease causes brain degeneration in white-tailed deer and elk and now plagues 24 states, including Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
The brain degeneration causes abnormal behaviors, loss of bodily functions and eventually death in the affected animals. Deer and elk spread the disease through saliva, urine and feces.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease is not known to harm humans, but scientists do not know if people can become infected through contaminated protein particles. The CDC suggests that hunters in areas where the illness is present check animals for chronic wasting disease prior to consumption.
Since Tennessee’s outbreak, some states are taking precautions to avoid the disease’s spread. Kentucky is asking the public to remove the brain and spinal columns of any deer from Tennessee before bringing them across state borders. Virginia has decided to only import boned or quartered deer meat and clean antlers or skulls, and North Carolina banned the import of whole deer carcasses.
According to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the most effective way to prevent disease spread is to avoid moving live deer and elk into new regions or regions with disease-free herds.
Chronic wasting disease could affect the growth of elk populations in southern West Virginia. State guidelines require all new elk to come from disease-free herds, which are limited. Kentucky has a large, disease-free herd, but the state currently has an agreement to supply surplus elk to the state of Wisconsin. — By Jamie Tews